The Media

Credibility Goes into the Memory Hole at the Independent Record

You have to wonder just how little respect for its readers the publisher and owners of the Independent Record have. Just months after laying off its local editor and explaining it as a cost-cutting move, the capitol’s paper of record has hired a new editor to oversee the newspaper locally.

Regional editor (a position that makes absolutely no sense) Gerry O’Brien explained the move:

“I’m extremely pleased that Butch accepted the offer to this important post,” said Regional Editor Gerry O’Brien.
“Butch will bring focus to the IR news coverage, driving local content that our readers are demanding.”

None of that seemed to matter in June, when IR publisher Randy Rickman unceremoniously laid off the former editor John Doran, saying that the decision would not impact local news coverage:

Rickman noted that combining management positions between the two companies was a way to “cut costs while still producing the same strong results for our customers.”

It’s hard not to think about 1984 (and not just because I am currently reading it with my students). We’re being asked to believe both that Helena is better served by having an editor with less experience than the previous one–and that the very assertion Rickman made about local editorial control four months ago never happened. It’s all down the memory hole, as if what happened simply never did.

Lee Enterprises and IR publisher Randy Rickman certainly don’t possess the power of Orwell’s Big Brother, but they do share BB’s absolute disregard for those who consume the news. It doesn’t matter what we’re told, because none of it matters in the end. From Orwell’s 1984:

It was merely the substitution of one piece of nonsense for another. Most of the material that you were dealing
with had no connexion with anything in the real world, not even the kind of connexion that is contained in a direct lie.

It’s not hard to read behind the lines and see what really happened here. A publisher with a dual agenda–one corporate and one personal–decided to exercise more control over the newspaper and what better way to demonstrate his power?

This entire sad situation has cost the IR significantly. It has lost a competent editor who was pushing his news staff to write challenging stories and giving them the freedom to do so. More importantly, the paper has lost its credibility. When a media source entrusted with providing the truth to its readers can’t even tell the truth about its own staffing decisions and local control, how exactly are we supposed to trust their word when it comes to anything else.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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